Piute Mountain Trip
by the Numbers
By Marian Johns
Photos by Ed Jack and Allan Wicker
So, let’s start off with a high number and work our way down to zero.
8,000 – feet; the approximate elevation on Piute Mountain where we camped Saturday night.
38 – degrees temperature at our camp site Sunday morning. Wow, was it cold!
11 – participants – who were: leader, Marian Johns; co-leader, Doc (Dave) Hess; Dave Burdick; Nelson Miller; Allan Wicker; Dave Nichols; Devi Farmer; Danny & Norma Siler; Pat Nelson; Ed Jack.
9 frozen Saturday night campers – It was so cold we all tottered off to bed at 7:00 p.m. and didn’t get up until 7:00 a.m. That’s way too long to be in bed. Danny and Norma wisely had motel reservations down in Kernville.
4 potluck potato salads – we all had a good laugh when it was discovered that four people had brought potato salads. The only other potluck dish was baked beans. (There were also several snack-type contributions.)
4 Toyotas – belonging to Nelson Miller, Doc Hess & Dave Nichols & Marian Johns
3 Daves – Dave Hess; Dave Burdick; Dave Nichols
3 well-behaved dogs – belonging to Dave N., Devi, and Ed Jack
3 Ladies – Norma Siler, Devi Farmer & Marian Johns
3 Jeeps – belonging to Ed Jack, Dave Burdick & Danny and Norma Siler
2 Nelsons – Nelson Miller & Pat Nelson
2 miscellaneous vehicles belonging to Pat Nelson (Ram), Allan Wicker (Nissan)
2 photographers – Allan Wicker & Ed Jack
2 steep roads – one up Piute Mt. and one down; the one down has the best views which are spectacular.
1 Englishman – Pat Nelson hails from London.
1 archaeologist – Dave Nichols, archaeologist, works for the Mojave National Preserve.
1 doctor (retired) Dave Hess
1 professor (retired) – Allan Wicker
1 neat old abandoned rock cabin
1 old abandoned mine mill with cement walls that are covered with graffiti – some of it rather artistic
1 beautiful canyon – Caliente Canyon has a running creek that supports lush cottonwoods and lots of watercress.
0 trains on the Tehachapi Loop. We waited an hour and then gave up when no trains were in sight or hearing distance.
0 campfires - Not only was it miserably cold Saturday night, it was so breezy we couldn’t have a campfire to warm us up. ~ Marian
Death at Danby
By Steve Reyes
Driving east past the “ROAD CLOSED TO THRU” traffic signs on Route 66 casual visitors pass places forgotten by time. Chambless, Cadiz Summit, and then Danby. In Danby, a few buildings and residents remain. The town was situated in three places during its history based on the needs of the railroad, mining and the Mother Road (Route 66). Sitting in the midst of one of
these locations are the remains of three distinct graves. History tells us there are others buried nearby which have been reclaimed by the desert. For now, three homemade wood crosses hold vigil over forgotten souls. Yet, the question remains as to who is buried in the desert? A handful of articles from the Daily-Times Index newspaper published in San Bernardino from 1898 and 1998 paint a snapshot of life and death in Danby, California.
On December 28, 1898, a story buried on page five of eight of the Daily-Times Index and Evening Transcript reads “That Smallpox Scare – Hackberry, Ariz., Bagdad and Danby the Afflicted Points.” A Doctor Mackechnie was sent to Danby by County Health Officer Rene to investigate the matter.1” In 1898, smallpox was still a deadly disease and according to the Center for Disease Control Website three out of every ten people died after being infected. Smallpox was not eradicated from North America until 1952.2 It appeared the Sante Fe Railroad was so concerned it sent orders to San Bernardino asking doctors be sent to the camps to care for the sick men. The author went on to quote the below article from the Los Angeles Times.
The initial reports published by the Daily-Times Index painted a stark picture opposed to what was printed three days later. The page one article reads “Only One Man has Smallpox-At Danby Station and He is
Isolated and Is Recovering Now.” Evidently, J. H. West of Needles went to “Smallpox Country” and returned overland to report “the scare was greatly overrated.” Although overrated it was clear that smallpox was a feared ailment.3
The later edition printed on December 31st paints a humorous and most likely realistic timeline of events. The article leads with “Was Frightened Out – Dr. Mackechnie Was Afraid of the Smallpox.” Evidently, County Health Officer Rene received word of a potential smallpox outbreak and was allegedly tending to a fatally ill patient. As a result, Rene “deputized”
Dr. Machechnie and ordered him to travel to Danby and determine if there was in fact an infected patient. If the patient was infected he was to be quarantined. The following is an excerpt as described:
Soon after Supervisor West arrived at Danby and found the doctor had fled the scene. Supervisor West telegraphed Barstow and asked for Health Officer Renshaw to come to Danby. Renshaw determined only one person was sick and had a mild case of smallpox. Supervisor West and Health Officer Renshaw then sequestered the patient and paid a local to enforce the quarantine.4
By January 14, 1899 the public health emergency and panic at Danby subsided. The last story written about Danby and smallpox is a short paragraph on page
seven. There is no mention of the patient’s name, age or ethnicity. Did he have a wife, child or family? The author only writes the patient died at Danby and his effects and the tent where he “staid” was burned.5 Most likely he didn’t own the tent and his effects did not amount to much. He was probably one of the “professional tramps” or perhaps a “wandering Mexican.” All that mattered was the threat of smallpox was over. It is impossible to argue without a doubt the remains beneath one of the wooden crosses at Danby is smallpox infected patient who died in the desert. It is plausible to believe a death by an incurable infectious disease would necessitate immediate burial close to ones death bed.
1 The Daily Times-Index and Evening Transcript, San Bernardino, That Smallpox Scare, December 28, 1989, page 5.
2 Author Unknown, History of Smallpox, Center for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov/smallpox/history/history.html, Accessed March 30, 2020
3 Unknown Author, The Daily Times-Index and Evening Transcript, That Smallpox Scare, December 31, 1898, page 1.
4 Ibid, page 8
5 Unknown Author, The Daily Times-Index and Evening Transcript, The
Small Pox Patient at Danby Died Yesterday, January 9, 1899, page 1.
Liebre Gulch Instead of Liebre Mountain
By Leonard Friedman
Photos by Leonard and Rebecca Friedman and Bob Peltzman
Mid-morning on April 9, Rebecca and I met Bob Peltzman at Denny’s in Castaic, with the intention of driving Liebre Sawmill Rd (7N23) over Liebre Mountain. The two vehicle caravan first stopped at Sandberg Lodge, once the site of an upscale hotel on the Old Ridge Route. These days there is very little to see of the old hotel, but behind it we experienced some fantastic views down Liebre Gulch all the way to Pyramid Lake, and even saw some wild poppies. Bald Mountain, home to the Sandberg weather station and antennas, rose to the north.
We continued south on the Old Ridge Route, turning off to an abandoned Forest Service campground, requiring a bit of 4-wheel drive. After stopping there for lunch and conversation in the shade of a tree, we arrived at the beginning of Liebre Sawmill Rd, complete with a sign warning of a gate ahead. Sure enough, the gate was locked, though in past years it had been open. This time it was closed due to the Lake Fire of August and September 2020, which burned over 31,000 acres in the Angeles National Forest near Lake Hughes. So, we took out our Forest Passes, locked our vehicles, and went for a hike instead. (Only later did I
realize that that probably wasn’t allowed either.) The closed road was in perfect condition and the views over the forest amazing. We came across plenty of wildflowers, especially on the steep hills, and what looked like a series of giant “ant hills” running up the mountainside which we concluded must have been a fire break. Rebecca almost lost her sunglasses while photographing the wildflowers, but we figured that would have been an allowable 10% trip loss.
Two hours later, we returned to our cars, and continued south on the Old Ridge Route to the end of the road at Tumble Inn with its famous stone arch remaining. The gate on the Old Ridge Route was actually open, but we decided to heed the signs telling us not to continue. Well, we did walk in a bit, spotting lots of manzanita along the road, but left our cars at Tumble Inn. But then we noticed another dirt road heading back north and down into the canyon, Liebre Gulch. The road did not appear on the Auto Club map, but was hinted at in De Lorme, so with no gate or warning signs, we decided to give it a try. The road marker said 8N05, but checking various sources later, it is also known as Tumble Inn Road and Edison Spring Road.
At the bottom of the hill in Liebre Gulch, we came to a T-intersection. Bob quickly determined that there had been a major washout to the right that we might have had difficulty getting through, so we went left
instead, this time on 8N01 or Edison Spring Rd. Heading southwest through the gulch, we started climbing the ridge on the opposite side, next to a very steep drop-off. Once topping the ridge, the road curved back to the North providing spectacular views, and giving access to high tension power line towers for several miles and a buried crude oil pipeline. At the bottom of the next canyon, a sign was posted on a small fenced area proclaiming “West Fork Liebre Gulch North.” Who knew?
There were lots of forks in the road for eleven miles, but each time we took the one that looked more travelled, and we usually had the Bald Mountain antennas in sight. Eventually, at 5:45 p.m. we ended up at the aqueduct near Quail Lake Road, where I-5 and SR 138 meet. We started the trip seeking a mountain, but instead explored an impressive gulch. ~ Leonard
The Boondock Report
by Julie Smith
Happy Spring Everyone! We have been boondocking in our RV since January in Quartzsite, Arizona and exploring the area. We took an enjoyable day trip to the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge on March 29, 2021. It was a nice day in the high 80s, yet not uncomfortable. The 30 mile drive south on Highway 95 from our Quartzsite campsite went quickly and we soon made the left turn onto the King Road which is dirt and well graded. The King Road meanders through the Refuge offering stunning desert vistas, jagged mountains ranges, saguaros galore, ocotillo, cholla, and many varieties of desert plants and animals. We didn’t see any big horn sheep this time but we have on other visits to the area. Several other dirt roads connect to the King Road – we decided to take McPherson Pass which traverses through the Castle Dome Mountains and Mining District. It is a beautiful little pass about ten miles long through more gorgeous terrain. Lots of mining history in these mountains; silver, gold, and other minerals. McPherson Pass ends on the other side of the mountain and connects to Castle Dome Mine Road. We took this dirt road for about seven miles and found the Castle Dome Mine Museum - - a little gem of history preserved out in the Willy wags. Dedicated folks were able to put together the remnants/mining equipment of this small mining town which were abandoned over the years; the result is a historic ghost town you can explore.
They did a great job of putting it together and we took about two hours walking through the buildings and grounds. After the museum we continued back down Castle Dome Mine Road where we saw connecting roads to other gold mines nearby. Castle Dome Mine Road takes you through the Yuma Military Proving Grounds until you reach Highway 95 which gave us an easy 50 mile trip back to Quartzsite. This would be a good Desert Explorers trip sometime – only a few spots to navigate slowly without much difficulty.
Flagstaff, AZ USA
Images of the Sahara Desert, Libya
By Joe de Kehoe
I have been spending these winter months watching it snow and waiting for the high passes to be clear of snowdrifts so I can get back out exploring some of the back roads, ghost towns and abandoned mining
camps sprinkled around Colorado – all the while being envious of the 75° temps you all have been enjoying in California. I decided to spend this down time getting all of my photographs properly organized using Adobe Lightroom software. In the process I came across photos I had taken in Libya in the late 1970s and wanted to share these.
I was concerned that the Sahara was getting a little too far afield, but after all we are the Desert Explorers, and Jay assured me that it was ok – so blame Jay! My goal was to illustrate as best I could, the wide variation in topography in the Libyan Desert. I have always thought that deserts have a beauty all their own, and certainly the Libyan Desert rates pretty high on my list. The hard part in doing this presentation was in picking just a few photos as representative illustrations, but I think (hope) you’ll get the idea.
I was a geologist for Mobil Oil in Libya in the 1970s, and while I was there, I was busy working on several oil drilling rigs and therefore had only limited time to explore. My job required me to drive to the oil fields and drilling rigs at remote sites in the Sahara, and so I was able to see a lot of the desert that few Westerners get to see. My area covered Libya, southern Tunisia, Algeria and southern Morocco, but was mostly centered on Libya.
I would love to go back and explore some of these areas now in more detail, but of course, given the current political chaos in Libya, that would be nonsense. It is a shame too, because there are magnificent Roman ruins in several areas along the Mediterranean coast of Libya that look like the Romans left yesterday. With 1,000+ miles of beaches along the Mediterranean coastline I feel that Libya could make as much money on tourism as they do on oil revenue,but unfortunately Libya’s Islamic restrictions do not lend themselves to developing a viable tourist industry.
The captions for the photos include geographic coordinates, formatted so that they can be copied and pasted into Google Earth for the location of where the photos were taken. These photos were originally taken as 35mm slides, and they sat in a cardboard box for 40+ years and have specks of dust here and there. Unfortunately, too, the color on some of the slides faded over time. My apologies. Because visiting the area is out of the question, my goal here is just to provide a glimpse of the Libyan part of the Sahara Desert. If the political situation there ever stabilizes however, I’d be happy to lead a field trip.
It was good looking at these pictures during the cold months in Colorado because even now I can recall how blazing hot it was out there, and my Chevy truck did not have A/C. ~ Joe
Spring on the Mojave Road
By Steve Mersman
I left my house in Pinon Hills early on Thursday. Since I was doing the Mojave Road, I thought I would check out some other points of interest along the Mojave River. My first stop was to find the location of “Lanes Crossing.”
I drove into the river bed off of Turner Road in Victorville and parked along the river. Since Owl Rock products in Oro Grande has all entrances blocked from the east side of the river, it was my only option without asking permission.
My next stop was for a delicious sandwich at the Cross Eyed Cow Restaurant in Oro Grande.
My favorite sandwich is the Peterbilt (but the pizza is great too). My next stop was to find “Point of Rocks” near Helendale, which I’ve only seen in pictures. I didn’t realize the railroad pretty much cut right through it.
My next stops were to be Cottonwood, Fish Ponds and Forks in the Road, but time was getting short. I’ll save that for another trip. I still wanted to stop and check out Goffs Schoolhouse in remembrance of Dennis Casebier. But since our “certain circumstances,” it was closed.
I arrived at the Avi Resort not too late, and just my luck, no rooms were available. I checked availability the day before, and plenty were available. So called a friend which recently moved to Bullhead City and he allowed me to crash at his house.
I woke up pretty early since my friend had to go to work. I met with the three other vehicles I was leading across back at the Avi for breakfast but it was also not open for business, due to our “certain circumstances”. I found a little restaurant—The Bonanza Café— in Fort Mojave which is right across the bridge from the Avi. After breakfast we topped off our gas tanks, along with another group doing the Mojave Road. In fact, there were quite a few groups doing the trip. Looks like this trip is going to be crowded and camping spots may be an issue. Especially when one of the groups were 13 strong.
We finally started our trip and the weather was perfect, the wash coming from Picture Canyon had a weird undulation to the road; it would throw you back and forth, you really had to watch your speed. The only reason I could come up with, is they had an off-road race through here recently and the cars’ suspension and all that horsepower created these annoying road conditions. I still like to blame the UTVs though.
We made it to the highway crossing and could see the road to Piute Springs.
We took our time because I knew it was going to be busy up that single road. We met a few groups coming up and passing was a bit of an issue. People forget that uphill has the right of way. Anyway, we moved over the best place we could without running over vegetation. That’s another story. With that many people I was pleased that all were respectful and no trash was left behind. When we arrived at Piute Springs, I took a short hike and showed off the Petroglyphs and Fort Piute.
The creek was barely running. The driest I’ve seen it. The hope was to see some wildflowers this trip, but I think we were too early or just not enough precipitation this year. We loaded back up and headed down the road and made the right turn and began our climb over to Lanfair Valley.
I showed everyone the wagon tracks coming over from Piute Springs.
I forget how beautiful Lanfair Valley is. It is very thick with vegetation. I can see the temptation to raise cattle out there.
We continued on to check out Rock Springs, and figure out where we were going to camp. Everyone doing Mojave Road likes to camp near Caruthers Canyon and with that many groups it is going to be busy.
After driving around until dark, trying to find a site without neighbors, we settled near the windmill and corral near Maruba Road. After setting up camp and standing around the campfire the clouds rolled in and the wind picked up. Not too bad, but it was pretty cold, but what a beautiful sunrise with the low clouds still around.
After finishing breakfast and loading up we headed for the Rock House, Government Holes and lunch would be had at Marl Springs. It’s probably the most important stop for travelers along the Mojave Road for surviving such a journey in the late 1800’s. That is a long desolate way east from Afton Canyon, and west of Government Holes. I hiked along the mountain to find more petroglyphs and match the photo from Jeff Lapides book “The Mojave Road in 1863.” I’m always on the lookout for Tillman’s signature anytime I stop at a watering hole. Could this be one? Maybe he couldn’t stay long enough to finish it.
After finishing lunch, we headed to the lava tubes. When we made our right turn at Tank 6, the traffic kept getting worse.
Getting passed by a Toyota Camry at 50 mph – this was going to be interesting. Sure thing, there were people everywhere in the parking area and parking right next to the lava tubes. After getting through the crowd we headed to our next campsite along the lava walls beside the wash. When we arrived, it was going to be too busy and the wind was too strong. We decided to camp on the east facing mountain near 17 mile point We set up camp, cooked some delicious food, and hung around the campfire discussing what we saw, what we forgot and got a phone call out.
The next morning I woke up to utter silence. It was so quiet, just the sound of a jostling sleeping bag, or a zipper opening a tent flap. We said our goodbyes since one group left the night before, and the other had to take Kelbaker Road back to the 40 since he came from Arizona. My friend Joe and I were the last of the group, we were going to finish the trip. We continued on and over Soda dry lake. It was very dry – no problems at all crossing.
We stopped at travelers monument after a large group was leaving, I couldn’t find the rock I had left 10 years ago, that pile is getting pretty big. We kept on and stopping a couple times to fix the rock cairns, some were hit so hard the rocks were scattered everywhere. Keeping those telephone poles and rock cairns in sight we made it to the mouth of Afton Canyon, another favorite site of mine. It still amazes me to see that water running. Lucky for us the railroad is doing work on the tracks so the crossing was filled with railroad ballast just tires deep through the water.
We continued up the road and I showed Joe the old Indian path that still can be seen cutting across the desert.
We made it to the freeway, aired up our tires and discussed the next trip out in the desert. ~ Steve
by Steve Reyes
My wife and I grew up loving the desert and wide open spaces. After a year visiting Wonder Valley we bought a five acre parcel with a little cabin. Like generations of people before us we worked on our little place and started building a relationship with Wonder Valley. Often times we would sit outside our cabin and look east and watch the mountains change colors as the sun started to drop. The Sheephole Mountains drew most of our attention. The lowering sun created copper, light purple and golden brown hues. The changing light allowed us to see deep canyons cutting into the mountains. As we spent more time in the area we were gifted with the ability to explore the base of the mountains. Bit by bit and hike after hike we were able to piece together a tiny piece of the mountains history. Tin cans, animal detritus and evidence of early man.
According to wikipedia The Sheep Hole Mountains are a mountain range in the Mojave Desert, to the north of Joshua Tree
National Park, in San Bernardino County. The mountains were once Chemehuevi hunting grounds. Hunting grounds for the Chemehuevi indians? Now it would make sense! During one of my hikes in the mountains I discovered petroglyphs. The petroglyphs were surrounding an area that could be used as a hunting blind. The hunting blind was a large rock that faced up into a canyon that overlooked a wash. That wash led to some seasonal water which we also discovered.
The mountain range lies between the Bullion Mountains to the west, and the Coxcomb Mountains to the east. The mountains reach an elevation of 4,613 feet (1,406 meters) above sea level just east of Amboy Road, which the range crosses. As we continued to hike the mountains we also discovered the existence of a vast array of wildlife. Coyotes, bobcats, hawks and kit foxes call the Sheephole Mountains home.
During one of our hikes we discovered the remnants of several mining operations. These operations have long since been combed over and abandoned but according to diggings.com the mines had such names as the Sheep Hole Mine, Wagner Gold Mine, and the Boney Gold Occurrence. It is hard to imagine how hard the labor must have been. There was no Desert Hardware Store or Home Depot to retreat to for mining supplies.
While hiking within earshot of Amboy Road my wife and I discovered a medium
scale mining operation with abandoned mines and homemade above ground water cisterns. What was most amazing was the discovery of an arrastra. According to goldrushnuggets.com: “an arrastra, also known as a Mexican Rastra, was a primitive method used by early miners to process gold and silver ores. It was introduced to the new world by the Spanish in the 1500’s. They were used throughout the world, often at remote locations where other processing methods were not feasible.”
These gold mining operations created their own wild stories of lost mines and miners. In 1941, Desert Magazine printed an article about an old miner by the name of “Hermit John” who emerged from the dry lake bed northest of the Sante Fe Station at Amboy. The story goes “Hermit John” approached a small group of men at the train depot and wanted to ship six sacks of ore. One of the bags was damaged and the men discovered it contained ore that was a light gray iron and plastered with bright yellow gold.
The men were amazed at the haul and asked him where he found the ore. The old miner was secretive and refused to tell anyone the whereabouts of his mine. Another local would later say the miner told him he had found a century old Spanish mine. This mysterious miner disappeared into the desert and the legend of the Lost Ledge of the Sheep Hole Mountains was born.
The Sheep Hole Mountains look down on Wonder Valley and are the valleys keeper of its history, natural wonders and hidden secrets. In the later afternoon it shows itself to Wonder Valley. Often my wife and I comment how the mountain peaks look razor sharp as they cut into the sky. The Sheephole Mountains welcome visitors to the valley below and wish them well as they travel on. The best part is travelers overlook this pristine wilderness area on their way to Joshua Tree National Park or Las Vegas. The Sheephole Mountains are my backyard. ~ Steve
Hamfest & Winter Camping in Quartzsite, Arizona
from Bill and Julie Smith
Greetings Desert Explorers!
We have been attending a weeklong ham radio event held at the Roadrunner camping area on BLM land in Quartzsite, Arizona annually for four years now. It is held the third week of January and called Quartzfest. This year it was called Quartz-Pause in order to still have a get-together and keep it going somewhat through the pandemic; albeit ‘unofficial’. Most everyone kept to their own campsites – working amateur radios from their rigs/tents, folks visited within social
distance, visited on the radio, worked radio traffic and contests, and they were able to test several individuals for amateur radio licenses. They had a small swap meet of equipment and other items, an Off-Road Trip one day up and over the local mountains to the Colorado River near Blythe, plenty of time to go into the town of Quartzsite to check out the ongoing flea markets, and many opportunities to explore the local area. We meet Desert Explorer Extraordinaire Bill Powell at this event every year and it was fun also meeting his wife and niece this time when they came down from Oregon. Our daughter and her husband also come down and stay with us a few days during this event. Usually there are around 1,000 in attendance at Quartzfest. This year there were under 200 Hams, but the spirit of the event prevailed and everyone had a great time! Kuddos to the dedicated organizers and attendees who kept the ‘Quartzfest wheels turning’ despite the challenges of 2020 & 2021! We are certain more folks will attend again in the coming years.
Quartzsite explodes with a Snowbird population every winter – this year not so much. Not as many folks made the usual ‘Winter Pilgrimage’ this year. Less people in general and with the Canadian Border closure, the absence of the usual multitides of Canadians was especially evident. There seemed to be enough campers to keep the town of Quartzsite limping along – but many businesses were closed or gone. We hope they continue to perservere – we think they will.
We ended up staying through February this year and enjoyed boondocking around Quartzsite. We started gold prospecting last year around the Prescott/Dewey areas of Arizona when we ‘hunkered down’ in Camp Verde, AZ during the quarantine period. Last spring we were able to work a claim in Dewey, AZ that is owned by the Gold Prospector’s Association of America since we are members of this organization. We are ‘No Threat’ to Ruth & Emmett Harder for sure and are enjoying learning-as-we-go searching hills and washes to dig, dry sluice, and pan. Our daughter and son-in-law started prospecting also a few years ago. They share part of a claim at a small mining operation in Quartzsite and we help them on that claim sometimes. This January we joined the local Quartzsite Metal Detecting Club which is associated with the Miner’s Depot shop in town and are able to dig on their claims nearby. Great scenery, super weather, plenty of exercise digging, and finding a little bit of gold here and there keep things interesting. We are enjoying prospecting immensely ! Our daughter and her husband haul water to their claim area and do wet sluicing for gold. We go out in the desert hills and washes and dig, ‘vacuum’, classify, put the material through our dry sluice, and pan the material later at our campsite. After a few weeks in So. Cal to visit family in March, we will be back in Quartzsite chasing nuggets until April. We look forward to Desert Explorers Trips as they begin to happen this year!
Bill & Julie Smith
‘On The Road To Somewhere’
Huell Howser’s Video Legacy “That’s Amazing”
by Rebecca Friedman
It’s been eight years since Huell Howser, the likeable public television host with a genuine sense of wonder and Tennessee twang, died in January 2013 at age 67. I decided to update the article that I wrote for the DE Newsletter back then. Since we’re mostly relegated to being “armchair travelers” these days, I encourage you to view some of his video archives at the website shown below.
For 30 years, Huell traveled the state to share the history, natural wonders, and amazing people of California. I used to join my parents in watching him on TV, starting with his Videolog programs. Later I introduced his California’s Gold, Road Trip, California Golden Parks, and other series to my own family (Leonard and Hannah). We were big fans. Years ago, I caught a glimpse of him in person at a café in Los Angeles. And we got to meet Luis Fuerte, his longtime cameraman from 1990-2001, when we went to the 2014 opening of the California’s Gold Exhibit and Huell Howser Archives at Chapman University. I remember Huell often proclaiming, “Louie, take a look at this!” Luis autographed a special edition AAA map for the Desert Explorers, which Craig Baker purchased at our silent auction that year. I saw that eBay is offering that guide map (unsigned) for $25.
Hundreds of episodes of Huell’s California’s Gold and other series have been digitized and made available for free viewing online on the Chapman University website (http://www.HuellHowserArchive.com). Huell even featured Bill “Short Fuse” Mann and sites in the Lucerne Valley on episode #1402 of his Visiting series. Below is a partial list of episodes where Huell visited places that Desert Explorers have also been. To view one, just type the title in the “Search” box on the website. There is also an interactive California’s Gold Map that makes it easy to find episode numbers. Or, you can browse the episode index at https://blogs.chapman.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2017/03/Episode-List-1.pdf. Any of Huell’s episodes are worthy of your viewing.
All these episodes are California’s Gold unless noted:
By Lindsay Woods
No, we weren’t going to drive around town looking for graffiti nor were we heading out to graffiti local landmarks but rather to check out some graffiti from years past in the Black Mountains area outside Hinkley, California. We headed North on 1-15 to Highway 58 and exited Hinkley Road and the adventure began when our tires left the pavement and hit the dirt. There is more than one location in this area where petroglyphs can be viewed.
At our first stop we were able to locate one marking on the outcropping of rocks. Soon we were driving through a wash with the dark, volcanic looking rock walls on each side of us. When we stopped, we were able to explore the area and find a number of petroglyphs and graffiti from 1938 to as recent as 2020. While I hated to see some of the newer carvings, I began to contemplate what these newer carvings would communicate to future explorers. Don’t get me wrong I am in no way condoning these actions, but found it worth pondering. There was even a couple of carvings related to COVID-19.
On the way to our final destination Inscription Canyon, we stopped at a number of other sites of interest. While driving we saw a rock stack structure that was about 3 feet tall, 8 feet wide, and 20 feet long which we surmised was some type of holding pen for animals. Next, we came across the old stage coach stop site where the watering trough and well can still be seen.
A short distance further we came across what I would presume to be a dugout miners’ cabin which was cut into a small mound. The dugout appeared to have a thin concrete floor and plaster skimmed walls and ceiling. I would estimate the room to be around 200 square feet. I read somewhere online that miners were in the area in the early 1900’s. They were mining high end opals, one of the operations was actually funded by the Tiffany company. This dugout cabin would have provided a much-needed shelter for its occupants from the weather extremes in the Mojave Desert.
The whole day I had been hearing about the eagle petroglyph which we continued to scan all of the rock hillsides for. Not finding the eagle we pressed on to Inscription Canyon. What an impressive sight, I could have spent the whole day combing this area but after about an hour it was time to get moving. We returned to our hunt for the eagle and after about 20 minutes we were able to finally locate it. With that success we decided to begin heading for home.
We decided to go over the Black Mountain and drop in at the base of Opal Mountain and make our way back to Hinkley Road. On our way out we ran across Sherriff’s personnel on a Polaris Ranger with a litter on the back. We stopped and spoke with them and learned they were doing a body recovery in the area. After a brief visit we started our way back toward Highway 58. Shortly before we hit the pavement, we came across a Coroner unit that was having difficulty locating the recovery team. We were able to assist them with direction to the recovery team’s location.
Our day ended nine hours and 160 miles later. Another great day exploring the desert. ~ Lindsay
Prospecting Holes Near Cajon Summit
By Bill Neill
In late February, while taking geology photos of the San Gabriel Mountains and vicinity, I discovered Forest Route 3N21 that heads west from Cajon Summit, along the ridge between the Mojave Desert and Cajon Amphitheater, starting at the brake check area on Interstate 15 southbound. At its west end, this easy but winding 4WD route terminates at Highway 138 about 5 miles northwest of Cajon Junction. I drove only about a mile west of I-15, for impressive views of the Cajon basin and San Gabriels, with snow-covered Mt. Baldy about 14 miles to the southwest.
The ridge west of Cajon Summit is underlain by relict alluvial fan sediments containing cobbles and boulders of granite and metamorphic rocks, plus chunks of white vein quartz that are scattered about on the surface. Shown in the photo below, I placed several angular clasts of vein quartz on a gray slab of Pelona Schist, derived from mountains to the south.
Aligned along the ridge crest, I was surprised to see dozens of closely spaced prospector holes that I presume were dug in search of the source of vein quartz that can contain gold mineralization. Although I don’t know much about primitive gold mining methods, I presume that the holes were dug for prospecting and not dry-washing due to their fairly uniform size, depth and close spacing.
The photo below shows a straight line of diggings extending from the lower left corner past and behind my truck. The middle photo is a close-up of the same hill behind my parked truck. The lower photo is another location, with diggings extending up the hill and then turning to the left.
After returning home, I searched the Internet for the area’s prospecting history and found this posting from June 2012 on the www.treasurenet.com website by someone named “MrLee”:
Cajon Summit Mormon Diggings
I was out on the GPAA Crystal Claim 2 this afternoon and was surprised as I started to descend from the top of the hill there were layers of river rock in the cliff sides. I’m really wanting to know more about this area and how the hell there are river sediments on the tops of the hills with no mountains connected to them. Does anyone know more about this area? There are also boulders bigger than a suitcase and rounded by river tumbling all over the place. Very interesting area.
Answers to these questions might surprise “MrLee” and certainly would have surprised his Mormon predecessors, if that’s who they were. The granitic and metamorphic rocks forming the San Gabriel Mountains are thought to have originated where the Salton Sea is now located, and have been displaced by fault movement along the San Andreas Fault, as coastal southern California shifted by earthquakes about 150 miles to the northwest over the past 5 million years, since the Gulf of California opened and separated Baja California from mainland Mexico. More recently, the mountain range shed coarse sediments onto the Mojave Desert, before moving to its present location, which “beheaded” the alluvial fan complex and allowed Cajon Wash to erode the basin north of the fault.
The photo below was taken from near the summit of the paved road between Cajon Junction and Lone Pine Canyon, showing the northwest portion of the Cajon Amphitheater. The light-colored rock outcrop is made of thick sandstone layers that form Mormon Rocks; and on the skyline are steep cliffs called the Inface Bluffs, formed of relict alluvial fan sediments which dip gently northward toward the desert. The San Andreas Fault is a half-mile behind the camera in Lone Pine Canyon, and alluvial fans sourced from the mountains once extended from the fault to the skyline ridge, but have been beheaded by erosion of the basin as the mountain range moved northwestward along the fault.
At the Cajon Summit diggings, we can only guess whether the “Mormon” prospectors were looking for placer gold or a mother lode of quartz veins. Because the diggings follow the ridge crests, I assume that the prospectors thought the ridge line followed harder rock underneath that sourced the quartz fragments. If so, they were hopelessly wrong; but in their defense, I’m only guessing. ~ Bill
by Ed Jack
Disclaimer: I’m not an expert at much of anything and any quirky facts shared were merely the result of some creative Googling. As you know, everything you find on the internet is true. Right?
The idea of a winter trek started as a notiosn to traverse the California Backcountry Discovery Route (CABDR) from Yuma to Bishop. Shoot down to Yuma in the middle of winter and see how far north we could get before we had to return home. After talking to my desert explorer buddy Pat we decided we’d head out on the 4th of February and spend the next eleven days traversing the deserts from Joshua Tree NP, to Yuma and back north to the Mojave. Call it a Trifecta (sort of) as we’d be exploring the Colorado Desert (a subsection of the Sonoran desert making it a “sort of”), then a bit of the Sonoran Desert as we head over to Quartzsite for a little respite and then on to the Mojave Desert.
We started the trip by heading over to Indio and then swearing off as much blacktop as we could for the next eleven days. What better way to kick off the trip then a short loop up Thermal Canyon and then back down Pinkham Canyon. This gave us a taste of the lower Colorado Desert and a bit of the Mojave in one quick trip. Even on this short loop you could see the Ocotillo slowly disappear as we climbed north and then reappear as we headed back south. Leaving Joshua Trees behind we headed south under the 10 and across the expanse to the Orocopia Mountains searching for camp. There was a bit of wind but we lucked out by finding a nice spot tucked up into a box canyon.
Pat’s plan for the trip was to limit driving to around four hours a day with a nice break each hour. This worked out perfectly and turned our days into wonderful exploring events as opposed to a mad dash from one point to another. Day 2 found us back on the trail around 9:30 a.m. and picking our way south. We started on the Meccacopia Jeep trail and headed toward the Coachella Canal. The canal would be a familiar traveling companion as we worked our way south toward Ogilby and eventually Yuma. When the jeep trail eventually started to turn back north we found another trail that took us all the way down to the canal. Traveling along the canal we passed the trailhead for the Bradshaw trail, past an RV park on Spa Road and eventually to the infamous Slab City. We’ve been through there before so we didn’t stick around for too long and started looking for a campsite a few miles down the trail from the Slab. Camp ended up right next to the shoreline of an ancient lake (Cahuilla Lake). White sea shells dotted the berm that served as the last indication of an ancient body of water.
Onward and southward past the Algodones Dunes to Glamis where Pat purchased a $7 box of butter so he could continue to cook his damper (bread) while driving. The little “truckers’’ oven he uses is an ingenious piece of kit. A quick stop at Olgilby to air up the tires. Olgilby doesn’t look like much on the map and proved to simply be an intersection with Ted Kipf road and Olgilby road. Didn’t take long at all to cover the few miles of pavement and a short section of I8 before we were gassing up at the Circle K in Yuma. This being the official start of the CABDR. Less than a half hour later and we were airing up and heading north toward Picacho State Recreation Area. Camp found us at the base of Pebble Mountain not far off the main trail north.
By now you’d figure we’d be plumb tuckered out but the pace we were setting was quite pleasant. The next morning we headed north past the Picacho Mines and I’m a sucker for obscure plaques in out of the way places so I took a picture. Pat likes to refer to them as “propaganda.” Picacho State Recreation Area turned out to be a jewel as it stretched northward along the Colorado River. There were plenty of spots along the trail to pull over and get a view of the river and of Taylor Lake. With the last of the river pictures safely stored away on our cameras we swung west through Indian Pass Road.
It’s here where I really started to feel sorry for the motorcycles this route was created for, as this “road” was really a seven mile sandy trail that would make motorcyclists feel like they were playing a game with the devil. Easy stuff for our four wheeled vehicles though. Unfortunately this route terminated back on Ogilby road where we decided to keep the tires aired down and drove “slowly” north to the intersection of 78. Lucky for us there’s dirt that pretty much parallels the 78 all the way to Milpitas Wash Road. Note though, there’s a Border Patrol checkpoint on 78 and you really should leave the dirt and drive through the checkpoint. If you don’t you are almost guaranteed to be chased down by the border patrol so they can say Hi. Trust me. I can say though that Officer Blair was a really pleasant gentleman once he realized we weren’t smugglers and we weren’t up to anything nefarious. Once we reached Milpitas Wash Road and headed northwest until we found a great camping spot at the base of the Palo Verde mountains. Rumor had it there was a Saguaro cactus someplace in the vicinity at one point in time but we certainly didn’t see it. Lots of Ocotillo but we only espied three blooms on the entire trip. Just a little too early I suppose.
We decided to make it a short driving day given I had a lunch date with my folks in Quartzsite on Wednesday. Hodge Mine, along the Bradshaw Trail, turned out to be a great campsite and an easy place to stage for our drive into Blythe and eventually Quartzsite the next day. Lunch at Rebel BBQ was weighing heavy on my mind all night long. It had been a couple of years since I’d eaten there so anticipation was running high.
We made a late start the next day so we’d be able to drive right over to Rebel and have lunch. It was a good decision and provided three hearty meals over the next several days. Stopped at Albertsons to stock up on groceries and then we headed over to Queshan Park to spend some lazy time watching the Colorado River flow by. After a short break we headed up to the highway and we were on our way to Quartzsite. It took about two seconds on the highway to remember why I like to seek out the quiet places. iOverlander (a handy phone app) showed us a good place to fill up on water was the rest stop on the 10 as we drove to Quartzsite. Sure enough there was a water spigot with some nice cold water. Everyone’s been to QZ so I won’t go into too many details. Polmosa Camping Area was sort of a dud because of the loud traffic driving through the area on the paved road. Some nice Saguaro to see though. Lunch at Silly Al’s Pizza with my parents and a quick stop at the Tom Wells market as I looked for a piece of vinyl tubing to replace a silicone tube I blew up with my water pump. No luck on the tube but we found an Ace hardware in Blythe later in the afternoon as we headed back to the BDR. It took a bit of pavement north of Blythe before we could finally turn off on dirt - the Old Blythe-Vidal road. What a treat to be back on dirt. It took about 9 miles of dirt before we were ready for another camp site. It felt good to get back into the groove again.
The next morning we headed north and stumbled upon another one of the curious plaques. Camp Rice - Desert Training Center. Amazing how they would use these desert training camps to harden troops before sending them overseas. More north to Chubbuck and onto Skeleton Pass Road where we ran across a very photogenic Desert Tortoise. Amazing creatures to say the least. Glad I had a camera with a long lens as it kept us from disturbing him (or her?) too much. We just made it through Skeleton Pass and pulled up well short of the railway to set up camp for the evening.
We woke up to rainbows over the Mojave. You could tell there was a lot of rain being dumped in the high desert. We held off a while in the morning to let the storm pass as we stayed very dry watching things unfold over the Mojave. Onward to Sahara Oasis which must be the most expensive gas for miles and miles. Then north to Goffs where Pat was able to sweet talk the hosts to let us spend an hour walking around the grounds of the old Goffs school house and outdoor museum. What a treat that was. Sort of somber though as we had just heard the day before of the passing of Dennis Casebier.
Hats off to the hosts for letting us spend some time looking around. We continued north and headed into some elevation for a cold night camping along the Mojave Road.
The next day found us travelling west along the Mojave Road and some unfortunate wind storms. We made our way south to Kelso Depot, around the Kelso Dune then west to Broadwell. It was here I said adios to Pat and made my way home. 60mph winds are no place to be camping in a roof top tent. Overall a great wintertime trip and an excellent time of year to explore some areas that are fairly inhospitable at other times of the year. ~ Ed
Wee Thump Joshuas
by Bob Jaussaud
Sue is addicted to Facebook. Every morning she turns on her iPhone and opens Facebook to learn what has been happening with our friends and the world in general. Facebook has learned that Sue is interested in all things desert and appropriately on a recent morning it included a blurb about the relatively new wilderness area, Wee Thump, and the giant Joshua Trees found there. We knew we had to go ﬁnd them. So, with short notice and on the last day of 2020 we met Mignon and Robin in Searchlight and headed to Wee Thump in search of the giant Joshuas …and, thanks to Robin, to enjoy some ﬁne wine and hors d’oeuvres on the desert
Wee Thump means “ancient ones” in the Paiute language and it is the name given to a relatively new (2002) wilderness area in Nevada located a few miles west of Searchlight and just north of Hwy 164. The Wee Thump Wilderness was set aside to protect an ancient forest of Joshua Trees, some as old as 900 plus years. Joshua trees grow as little as 1/2 inch per year and some of them in the Wee Thump Wilderness are over 30 feet high.
The history and evolution of the Joshua Tree is truly unique. John C. Fremont described Joshua trees as “The most repulsive tree in the Vegetable Kingdom.” Indeed, they do kind of look like an agave on steroids. Early Mormons thought they saw the prophet Joshua’s silhouette, or perhaps his beard, in the tree. In fact, it is likely the Mormons were the ﬁrst to name the plant “the Joshua.” Before that (in the 1880’s) it was known as
Yucca Palm” (Yes, that’s where the city of Palmdale gets its name). Other references to the plant include“palmyra cactus”, “cabbage tree”, “gray pilgrims”, “tree yucca”, “desert dagger” and more correctly the “Yucca brevifolia.”
Fortunately, on that last cold morning of 2020 we were able to ﬁnd giant Joshua Trees. In fact, lots of Joshua Trees of all sizes. They were not repulsive but quite beautiful and, as Sue reminded us, have a very unique relationship with the Yucca Moth. The Joshua Tree shares an obligate mutualism (symbiotic relationship) with the Yucca Moth. It seems this moth has evolved a unique mouthpiece that enables it to efﬁciently extract and hold pollen from the tree ﬂowers. With the gathered pollen it ﬂies to another Joshua ﬂower and uses its uniquely evolved ovipositor (rear end) to insert its eggs into the seed pack of the bloom. Then it pollinates the bloom so the seeds will grow and feed the moth’s baby caterpillars when they hatch. The caterpillars don’t eat all the seeds, so the Joshua Tree has pollinated seeds left over to reproduce with. Its a win-win for the moth and the tree. What’s really interesting is that Joshua Trees do not have nectar, so the moths are doing this specifically to pollinate the trees. None less than Charles Darwin wrote that this was the “most wonderful case of fertilization ever published.” Even
more amazing is that now two distinct species of Joshua Trees have been identiﬁed and two distinct species of Yucca Moth have evolved to uniquely service each species.
Unfortunately, the future for this evolutionary miracle is threatened by climate change and other man made disasters such as the Cima Dome Fire. Cameron Barrows, an ecologist at UC Riverside, feels the Mojave Desert could lose up to 90 percent of its Joshua Trees before the end of the century. Tall mature trees do not necessarily show how healthy a Joshua Tree forest is.
It is the little juveniles that indicate the species is healthy and replacing itself. And, thankfully, we did ﬁnd some juveniles when we visited Wee Thump. So hopefully, if man can keep his mitts off it, that beautiful forest will survive for at least another 900 years. ~ Joeso
Bonanza Springs by Steve Reyes
On a recent Sunday afternoon, my wife and I decided to explore the Needles to Ludlow Truck Trail (NS203) which runs east to west from Kelbaker Road. The intended stopping point was Bonanza Springs in the Clipper Mountains which is located a few miles east of Essex. When we first arrived at the spring we were amazed to see water in the desert! The water was clear and feeding some vegetation surrounding the springs. I first read about the springs in Joe De Kehoe’s book The Silence and the Sun. I learned the spring is part of the Lower Fenner Valley and played a role in the service of the Santa Fe Railroad. Prior to 1901 water from the spring was piped via 4” cast iron pipe to Danby to provide water for the train’s steam engine. The spring was once called home to people and the significance of the spring continues today.
According to the Bureau of Land Management’s website the Bonanza Springs Watchable Wildlife Area “Is one of the few natural watering areas for wildlife within the Mojave Desert. It is tucked into a beautiful, small canyon of yellow and white limestone. Visitors are asked to minimize their stays near the water and to use the adjacent viewing areas,
which have picnic tables and fire pits. Dispersed camping accommodations are available downstream for larger groups.” The area was completely devoid of trash and it did not appear anyone had visited in quite awhile.
According to an article appearing in the Los Angeles Times dated August 9, 1966 there were three people living at Bonanza Springs. There was a Jack Copley also known as “Desert Fats”who was attempting to raise catfish and bluegills in ponds. He told the reporter “Surprised to see water in the middle of all this dryness, ain’t you” as he threw horse meat to the fish. The ponds were fed by the springs and were home to hundreds of the fish. It seemed “Desert Fats” was planning on opening an “oasis in the middle of the Sahara.” Evidently the BLM stepped in and “Desert Fats,” and his business venture ended with him being told “Uh-Uh-No soap.”
“Desert Fats” claimed to have lived at Bonanza Springs for fifteen years and “Never made a dime out of the desert but I aint quit trying.” “Desert Fats” even attempted to raise frogs for a time. “Frog legs bring in good money. God, a pair runs $5 in a fancy restaurant. Just when the frogs were getting nice and fat wildcats and hawks wiped them out.” Sometimes the population at Bonanza Springs included Sam Mellos who split his time in Los Angeles. Al Stangberg who at the time of the article was vacationing at Lake Tahoe. At one time there was a fourth person
living at the springs by the name of “Sparky.” One day “Sparky” ventured out into the desert after the sun “got to him” and his remains were found six months later.
In 2008, Joe de Kehoe interviewed Clarence Chambers in preparation for his book. During that interview Clarence explained how his father came to reside at the springs. Clarence Chambers has been a long time resident of Twentynine Palms / Wonder Valley and has drilled the majority of the wells in the area. In 1948 his father, Philip Chambers, got together with a friend and spent forty five years searching for the “Lost Dutch Oven” mine. They began their search for the mine camping at an old stone cabin which Clarence refers to as Tom Schofield’s cabin. In the 1960s he moved to Bonanza Springs because of the access to water. According to Clarence, his father Philip piped water approximately a mile and a half to two miles to his residence. Over the years Philip made several mining claims in the area and established a mill site in search of gold. Philip was married to Ellen Faye Chambers who worked at Amboy and the Cadiz store. They established a home at the springs and Clarence stayed until he was forced out by the BLM in 1989.
During the interview, Clarence made reference to an interview Ellen Chambers had with Huell Howser while he explored the desert and made stops in Wonder Valley and Amboy. The interview can be found on the Chapman University video archive.
According to the Needles Desert Star newspaper, the BLM partnered with members from the community in 1999, 2004 and 2008 to remove non-native plants at the springs. Today Bonanza Springs is a quiet and remote day use only area with picnic benches and fenced in parking areas. The access road from Route 66 is almost impassable as it requires a four wheel drive vehicle which is washed out in several areas. All that remains are concrete slabs where people once lived. The springs offer a panoramic view of Route 66 / National Trails Highway, Danby, and the Sante Fe Railroad. The brief history of Bonanza Springs cannot be complete without one mention of its relation to the Cadiz water project. In 2019, there was a scientific investigation to determine if the Cadiz Water Project would impact the springs. ~ Steve